Say Goodbye To Hollywood releases tomorrow! I’m so excited. I can’t believe it’s finally almost here. But since there’s still another day to wait, here’s another excerpt to tide you over!
Read the excerpt after the jump, and don’t forget, you can pre-order it on Amazon, and buy other digital formats tomorrow at Smashwords! (Paperback to be announced soon).
Our panel the next morning is in the grand ballroom, but despite the seating capacity, it’s still standing room only. It’s hot and packed, and Lynn enters to deafening applause. The heat in the space, combined with the noise and the uncomfortable night I spent getting dehydrated by the air conditioner, makes me feel about as bad as I suspect I look. For some reason—insecurity, most likely—I thought I should go for a dressed-down, L.A. chic look. One of those, “Oh, I just ran out for a gallon of milk in these deconstructed jeans and classic white tee,” outfits.
Except celebrities actually had those jeans and t-shirts tailored to make them look that damn good. That was a secret I learned from Jack. I forgot that when I was getting dressed this morning, and now, I look like I just rolled in from painting a house.
Meanwhile, Lynn is decked out smartly in a black pantsuit over a turquoise v-neck silk shell. Her diamond ring throws a disco ball pattern on the tabletop, and her hair is immaculately pulled up in a French twist.
This is a side of Lynn I’ve never seen. She’s usually casual, but carefully staged, like a Food Network host. Now, she appears more polished, more professional.
Beside her, Marion shows us both up in bootcut jeans, Converse sneakers, and a long ribbed knit tunic. Everything about her wardrobe is understated; she doesn’t need anything to make her look like she’s playing a part. She is exactly as cool as she looks.
“Good morning, good morning!” A chipper dark-haired woman warbles into a microphone. She’s probably in her mid-forties and has the tan skin and accent of someone who’s lived in the area for a long time. “I’m Patty Turner, I’m your panel moderator—”
Polite applause and a few isolated “Whoo!”s filter up to us. Patty pauses for a bashful smile and laugh. Her name was on an ad that wrapped the elevator doors. She must be a novelist in her own right.
I wonder what kind of pull she has, that she’s gotten this opportunity. How does she feel about introducing another, more famous writer? Is she grateful to share the spotlight with her, even for forty-five minutes? Is she humbled or embarrassed? I can’t imagine Lynn cheerfully playing second fiddle to a more famous author.
“It looks like everyone in the hotel is here,” Patty quips.
“Except the haters!” someone shouts from the crowd.
Lynn leans toward her microphone and says slyly, “Well, we don’t need them, anyway.”
And she doesn’t. Lynn Baldwin doesn’t need even half of her readers to be an overwhelming success. Yet, her fans seem obsessed with the “haters”, reviewers and readers who don’t care for the book and make their critiques—and sometimes, vitriol—known. Somehow, they believe that even a single dissenting opinion endangers Lynn’s career.
After the scene I witnessed in the lobby last night, I looked up some of the message boards and fansites that have cropped up in celebration of Beautiful Darkness. Facebook, for example, boasts no fewer than three hundred fan groups devoted not just to Lynn, but to individual characters and even inanimate objects like Damian Bennett’s helicopter, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Her fans roleplay, write fan fiction, and create artwork, but they seem dedicated, over all else, to combating “haters”. To them, Lynn is still the suburban everywoman, and they’ll protect her and her book at all costs.
The internet is a strange place.
Knowing that even the mildest criticism can get one branded a “hater” terrifies me, especially now that I’m in a room with so many fans. I feel like I’m on a spy mission into enemy territory. But it will be useful. Here, I’ll figure out what readers are really looking for, and hopefully, I’ll be able to use some of that as we continue to argue over rewrites.
“Since we already know who Lynn is, we can save her introduction for last,” Patty says, and gestures to Marion. “How about you introduce yourself?”
Marion leans toward her mic. “I’m Marion Cross, and I’m directing Beautiful Darkness, the movie.”
“I’m Jessica Yates,” I say on my turn. “I wrote the screenplay for Beautiful Darkness.”
“So, if there’s anything you don’t like, she’s the one to complain to,” Lynn adds. She laughs when she says it, like it’s a clever joke, but my guts churn.
It must be nice to have someone to blame if your shitty book becomes a shitty movie, I snarl internally, but force myself to laugh it off.
“And of course, I’m Lynn—”
Her last name is lost to a roar of excitement from the audience. She waits for it to subside before adding, “And I wrote Beautiful Darkness.”
The moderator lets the applause escalate to thunder before she quiets everyone over her own mic. “Okay, okay. Let’s ask her some questions, rather than just shout at her.”
All of the questions are fairly basic. How did Lynn handle her sudden fame? How did she manage to write a whole book while caring for her husband and children? Did she have any tips for writers who are just starting out?
One woman in the crowd blushes and stammers, “Damian and Ella are so real. What inspired them? Where did they come from?”
A few murmurs of agreement ripple through the crowd.
Lynn smiles and says, “They came from me.”
This takes me aback. I’ve heard and read writers answering this question before, and the response is almost always that they were based on people in real life, or they came to the writer in a dream. Sometimes, “the muse” gets the credit.
“And it was damned hard work,” she adds, to the room’s delight. “I knew I had a story to tell, but until I sat down and really put pen to paper, brainstorming ideas and stuff, I didn’t have anything. I had to build these characters and this world from the ground up. Anyone who tells you there’s an easier way is selling you something.”
I’m struck by the profoundness of her statement, and her ability to accept the praise without downplaying the effort she invested. For all that Lynn is brand-new to this, she at least has a handle on one of the most important aspects of being a woman writer. She won’t let her light be smothered under a bushel of societally-imposed modesty.
The next question concerns the movie, specifically how explicit the famed sex will be. Marion describes her vision for sensual, but not pornographic, love scenes. “We don’t want the sex to be the only thing they talk about,” she says, though both of us—hell, everyone in the room—knows that’s unavoidable.
“We’ve trimmed a few scenes here and there, for the same reason,” I add. “A lot of factors come into play when you get into distribution and the MPAA—”
“Though I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt us to get slapped with an NC-17,” Lynn interrupts, drawing laughs from the audience. Before I can continue, she goes on. “But the script isn’t finalized, yet. As our wonderful producer often reminds me, nothing is final until the film ships.”
That’s not only false, it’s also a dangerous illusion to foster in a known control freak. My guess is that Jack resorted to telling her that as a way to distract her from an objection he didn’t want to discuss, but it wasn’t smart of him.
The next person to ask a question doesn’t look nervous or star struck at all. She wears a retro-cut dress printed like scribbled-on parchment and holds a notebook. Her pen is poised above the paper. “I’d like to address an earlier answer you gave, Ms. Baldwin. You said that your only inspiration for the characters of Ella and Damian came from your own head?”
For no discernable reason, Lynn’s face tightens into that smiling mask of anger I’ve grown painfully used to. “No, no. I said the characters came from my brain. I don’t think I’ve made any secret of the fact that our wonderful producer, Jack Martin, was the physical inspiration for Damian.”
I’m going to tease Jack mercilessly—the nonsexual version of teasing, anyway—when we talk next. If Lynn keeps referring to him that way, I’m going to demand he credit himself as “Wonderful Producer Jack Martin”.
“Will he be in the movie?” someone shouts, and the moderator hushes her, saying, “Let’s all wait our turns.”
The woman in the parchment dress is still standing, not satisfied with Lynn’s response. “That’s what I want to discuss. Fans of Martin’s movie Last Man Standing have noted similarities between Beautiful Darkness and a popular fan fiction based on that movie.”
“If there are similarities, they’re certainly coincidental.” Lynn is openly frosty, now, though I can’t blame her. It sounds a lot like she’s being called a plagiarist, in front of hundreds of fans. “After all,” she continues, “there are no new ideas. To every author’s lament.”
“Let’s take another one,” the moderator tries, but the questioner raises her voice to speak over her.
“Plagiarism detecting software noted that seventy percent of Beautiful Darkness is identical to the fic, ‘Darkness Standing’, and readers and reviewers have found the plot and characterization identical.”
“Sit down!” someone shouts, and a few people cheer and clap.
“This isn’t a discussion I’d like to have at this time,” Lynn says, staring past the woman.
I follow her gaze and see two women in t-shirts emblazoned with “STAFF” coming down the aisle toward the questioner.
Lynn continues, “If you would contact my publicist, I’ll be happy to discuss this issue further.”
“Your publicist won’t return my emails,” the woman shoots back impatiently. One of the staff members taps her on the shoulder. She collects her bags and, without a further scene, leaves. A smattering of applause and boos follows her.
“Okay, let’s get back to the movie,” the moderator says, her voice unsure. “Will Jack Martin be in the cast?”
“Oh, heavens, no!” Lynn brightens up, smoothly glossing past the incident. “No, he has a much more important role.”
And like that, the plagiarism accusation is forgotten. But a new dread takes up residence in my stomach, alongside all the others in my growing collection of anxieties.